THIS WEEK’S OPPONENT:
#13 Stanford Cardinal (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12 Conference)
PLACE: Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, CA
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 19, 12:30 p.m. PT
TV: ABC Channel 7
LAST MEETING: Stanford won, 27-24, in the Pac-12 Championship Game
ALL-TIME SERIES: UCLA leads, 45-36-3
LINE: Stanford by six
Remember before the beginning of the season, when I wrote in my UCLA preview that the Stanford and Oregon games will be a “Death March” for the Bruins, being that they are very strong teams and both games will be on the road in hostile environments – particularly Autzen Stadium in Eugene, OR?
Well, that “Death March” is upon Jim Mora’s team, though considering the Bruins’ performance (5-0, 2-0 in the Pac-12) and their ranking (ninth in the AP, 10th in the coaches’ poll) I’m not 100% sure that – at least in Stanford’s case – it will be as much of a death march as I originally thought.
On one hand, the Cardinal, coached by David Shaw in his third year at the helm, has shown some vulnerability in the past few weeks as they were taken to almost literally the last play by a strong Washington squad before suffering a huge upset in Salt Lake City at the hands of unranked Utah.
And this was the team that I picked to face Alabama in the BCS Championship game, the team that I thought had the best chance end the Crimson Tide’s dynasty.
On the other hand, UCLA will face a very angry Cardinal bunch; I wouldn’t expect them to be any other way after watching Utah students and fans rush the Rice-Eccles Stadium field in jubilation at their expense.
I guarantee that they will be looking to take their frustrations out on UCLA, get that bitter loss to the Utes out of their mouths.
As such, I’ve officially changed my pre-season prognostication of this match from “No Chance” to “Chance”.
Not the greatest of chances mind you, but a chance nonetheless.
The most important rule for the Bruins as far as their game plan against Stanford on Saturday:
Do NOT, under ANY circumstances, kick the ball to Ty Montgomery – at all!
* A 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Washington on the game’s very first play and a 68-yard return later on, part of a school-record 204 kick return yards in that game.
* A 100-yard kickoff return against Utah.
Need I say more?
Montgomery is a player where if UCLA’s kickoff man sees him at the other end of the field, he needs either to kick the ball out of bounds or out of the end zone; better to have the ball on the 25 or the 35-yard line than to have the Stanford wide receiver electrify the crowd, as he is sixth in the country in all-purpose yards at 176.6 a game.
Outside of that, the Cardinal is just as tough and smash-mouth as ever, their defense sporting 15 sacks and 44 tackles for loss on the year with linebackers Shayne Skov (six TFLs) and Trent Murphy (five sacks, eight TFLs) leading the way.
Kevin Hogan may have messed up in Stanford’s last possession in Utah, but the quarterback is doing just fine overall, completing 61% of his passes for 12 touchdowns.
Montgomery is Hogan’s leading receiver (of course!) with his 31 catches and five touchdowns, and after attempting a professional baseball career, Tyler Gaffney has done very well in filling Stefan Taylor’s shoes at running back, averaging 5.7 yards a carry and finding the end zone seven times.
As for the Bruins, I think they match up with the Cardinal better than they did in last year’s Pac-12 title game; they were toe-to-toe with them then as only a couple of mistakes in the defensive secondary were the difference.
The biggest concern will be protecting Brett Hundley against that Stanford defense, as due to Torian White’s season-ending injury to his ankle, two true freshmen – Alex Redmond and Caleb Benenoch – are starting on the offensive line.
They generally did OK vs. Cal, with one holding call being made on Redmond, but Stanford’s front seven, particularly their linebackers, will a whole other animal.
In other words, if UCLA is to be successful in the running game – they weren’t against Cal as Paul Perkins‘ 38 yards led the team – and if Hundley is to avoid running for his life and getting sacked, Benenoch and Redmond must forget that they were high school kids at this time last year and play like upperclassmen; grow up fast because a big part of the Bruins’ fate depends on them.
It’s a good thing that two veterans, Simon Goines and Xavier Sua-Filo, are protecting Hundley’s blind side.
Devin Fuller and Shaq Evans have been good targets for Hundley, combining for 42 catches and six scores, but Jordon James, who was ranked fifth in the country in rushing average before suffering a high ankle strain, is clearly missed.
Mora has said that it would be “a stretch” for James to play on Saturday as he was still in a walking boot. It will be up to guys like Perkins, Steven Manfro, Damien Thigpen, and Malcolm Jones to get the much-needed yards on the ground.
Which won’t be easy as Stanford will likely do what their Cal rivals did and stack the line, as well as pressure Hundley on pass plays.
If the Bruins can pick up the blitzes that the Cardinal is sure to bring, they’ll have a decent chance to win.
I predict that this upcoming game will unfold much like the Pac-12 Championship game did between these two teams; it will be fairly even and the mistakes will be the difference.
The last time UCLA and Stanford met, it was the Bruins’ mistakes that gave the Cardinal the Rose Bowl bid.
Will it be a different story this time around, or will history repeat itself?